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Memories of Aleppo

posted on Marla's blog on Huffington Post

Old City Street Aleppo, Syria

The Turkish taxi driver pulled over as he frantically waved to the passing car to park on the gravel shoulder of the Kilis Antakya Yolu freeway somewhere between Sanlufa, Turkey and the Syrian border. With a screeching halt he bolted out of the taxi and ran ahead towards the now stopped car, leaving me inside, alone. The silence was serene. Surrounded on all sides by the rocky savanna, I watched, the pantomime take place before me. The square shaped man whose car had Syrian license plates handed a long narrow carton of cigarettes to my taxi driver, who raised his hand pointed directly at me. Then, in unison, they walked towards me in the taxi.

 It became clear that I was traded for a box of cigarettes. Sure enough, the plan was for Muhammad, the Syrian, to take me to Aleppo. I requested to see his drivers license and then wrote the number and his name on a piece of paper and gave it to the Turkish man. This exchange of licenses was my only protection. 5 hours earlier I had given the Hotel El Ruha’s manager, in SanluUrfa, the taxi driver's license number, when I hired him for the half day trip to the Syrian border.  These two pieces of paper would be the only link to my whereabouts if I were to come into any danger.  My trust lay with the three men.

Children at the Night Market Aleppo, Syria

Muhammad and I listened to a mix of Turkish and American pop music from his tiny car radio for the hours drive to Kilis, Turkey’s transit city on the Syrian border. Muhammad waited for the one and half hours it took to process me through Immigration and Customs check points. Once cleared, we drove two more hours through miles of barren fields, exhausted after the fall harvest, colored in the monotonous muted browns of late Autumn. Here and there a spindly minaret and a clump of homes formed into distant villages. Eventually the open spaces condensed into the burnished metallics of the industrial towns of Northern Syria. We finally came to a stop at a cul-de-sac just outside of Aleppo's Old City. Muhammad pointed to a narrow alley that apparently lead to the Biet Wakeil,  Aleppo’s first boutique hotel, which I had booked from viewing the gorgeous photos of this 16th century mansion. After paying fifty bucks and a small tip for the drive, Muhammad gave me a cheery good bye. I felt a warmth and honesty that was to reflect the Syrian people. Trust in myself and in the goodness of “others” allows me to travel alone, relying on my instincts and non verbal cues.

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